Put down the apple juice and pick up an apple. That’s the advice of a dietitian with the Northeast Georgia Medical Center about how to cut sugar from your diet.
“Drinks are just easy to go get out of the machine, and there’s not any nutritional value to them,” said Vicki Hope, registered dietitian with the hospital’s bariatric weight loss center. “You’re just adding calories, and if you don’t work those calories off, you’re going to store it as fat.” The problem is even greater with soda.
However Americans get their sugar, though, they’re getting too much.
The World Health Organization recently advised most Americans need to cut their daily sugar intake by two-thirds. Sugar should make up just 5 percent of total calories, according to the United Nations’ agency for health. The organization noted that eating a lot of sugar causes obesity and tooth decay.
Heavy people have a higher risk of chronic diseases, responsible for more than 60 percent of deaths worldwide. Dental care costs up to 10 percent of health budgets in Western countries and the lack of it causes significant problems in the developing world.
Gainesville dentist Norman Peets also warned about sugary drinks.
“We have a condition that we treat that’s generically known as Mountain Dew mouth,” Peets said. “People that drink a lot of Mountain Dew and sports drinks, (the drinks) have high acid content and the sugar so they’re way up on bacteria’s favorite foods list.”
Bacteria feeds on the sugar and makes acid that will rot the teeth and cause gum disease.
The U.N. organization pointed out that for some people, including children, drinking a single can of sweetened soda would already exceed their daily sugar limit.
Sugar is also hidden in processed foods. One tablespoon of ketchup contains about one teaspoon of sugar and that also may exceed the daily limit.
Cereals and even yogurt are often culprits in the average American’s diet, according to Hope.
“A lot of the sugar that we do eat is hidden, so I’m glad we’re calling attention to it,” she said.
Learning to understand food nutrition labels is key to eliminating the problem, and Hope said the ingredient list is the most crucial part of that label.
The sugar listed on a label includes both naturally occurring and added sugar.
So a cereal with raisins, for example, may have more sugar than another but still be healthy.
A cereal with sugar or high fructose corn syrup listed near the beginning of the ingredient list, though, is bad news.
“I think it can be a problem when sugary foods and drinks are consumed instead of more nutrient-dense foods that contain protein and healthy sources of fat because you tend to consume more of them and be less satisfied,” Hope said.
“So sugary foods cause you to eat more of it and still be less satisfied, and that encourages unhealthy behaviors like grazing and overeating.” She noted that even overweight people can be malnourished.
For dental problems, the frequency of consuming sugar is more important than the amount, according to Peets.
“Take a bowl of jelly beans and put it on a secretary’s desk. And she eats lunch, and then eats the bowl of jelly beans,” Peets said.
“And that just raises the acid content in her mouth for a fairly brief period of time and doesn’t do that much damage. Take the same secretary and the same bowl of jelly beans, and she eats them all day long and keeps that sugar level up all day long and it will rot her teeth out.”
Hope’s advice on fixing the problem includes keeping a food journal to help people recognize where they are going wrong with their diet.
She also advised using flavorings such as vanilla, orange and almond extracts or spices like nutmeg or cinnamon in place of sugar.
But obesity is a complex problem with a lot of factors, Hope said. Variety, portion size and exercise are all important.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.